A fledgling biowearables startup has raised a hefty seed round of funding from a slew of big-name backers for a system that tracks the impact that diet has on human health.
Founded out of New York in 2019, New York-based Levels has developed software capable of interpreting glucose data captured from a sensor that attaches to the back of a person’s arm via a tiny probe that the user inserts under the surface of their skin. The device takes a glucose reading automatically every 15 minutes, transmitting the relevant data to the Levels smartphone app for processing.
With Levels currently running as part of a closed beta program ahead of its full consumer launch early next year, the startup today announced that it has secured a $12 million seed investment from Andressen Horowitz, with participation from a number of notable angel investors including Netflix cofounder Marc Randolph and former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo.
The current wearable technology market, encompassing fitness trackers, sleep trackers, heart-rate monitors, and more, was pegged as a $33 billion industry in 2019. And Levels hopes to add a new metabolic health-tracking category to that list.
In the U.S. alone, some 122 million people have diabetes or pre-diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), representing a staggering 38% of the population. When you consider that 84% of people who have prediabetes are unaware that they have it, this helps to highlight the potential for Levels in the broader health tracking realm — prediabetes is an entirely reversible condition.
Moreover, just 12.2% of American adults are considered “metabolically healthy,” meaning that only 27 million adults are deemed to be at low-risk for chronic diseases such as heart disease or diabetes.
Although Levels is pitched as a consumer service and platform, it’s easy to see how it aligns with the growing telemedicine trend that has exploded in 2020 due to the global pandemic. But one obstacle facing many remote medical care services is that examinations that require physical interaction can’t be carried out remotely, which is why New York-based startup Tyto Care was able to close a $50 million funding round for an at-home medical testing kit that allows health care providers to examine patients’ lungs, heart, throat, ears, skin, abdomen, and body temperature without coming into direct contact with them.
Levels could fit into any number of remote wellness initiatives, perhaps as part of an employer’s health care program to encourage its workforce to get fit, with coaches or health care professionals checking in on all the data from afar. Certainly, at $399 for the first month, Levels is very much priced at the premium end of the spectrum, and it may not attain mass-market adoption in the same way as health-tracking services from the likes of Fitbit, Garmin, or Strava attain.
Levels doesn’t develop its own hardware sensors, electing instead to work with a third-party provider as part of a broader service to ensure that the hardware is safely deployed.
“Because this (sensor) hardware can be difficult to access due to being prescription only, we have set up a fulfillment process for the hardware that includes a telemedicine consultation with a physician, and shipment of prescription sensors from our partner pharmacy,” Dr. Casey Means, cofounder and chief medical officer at Levels, told VentureBeat.
The user wears the initial sensor for 2 weeks, which they then switch out for a second one, with a view toward completing a full month-long program. For many, a month will be long enough to derive all the insights they need to enact change in their lives, while those who wish to join for the long-haul can continue using the platform for a reduced price of $199 per month.
In terms of how Levels knows what a person is eating, well, this relies on good old-fashioned manual data entry. The user can proactively input whatever food item it is they are consuming, but the Levels app also features a smart “event detection” tool that prompts them to log their food as it detects the user’s glucose data changing.
Levels, which claims a waiting list of 45,000 people during its closed beta period, isn’t specifically designed to monitor for diabetes risk factors. In truth, real-time glucose data can be used by anyone — including professional or amateur athletes — to improve their diet, performance, and recovery by analyzing the impact their food intake has on their body.
“We have the largest data set in the world of continuously measured glucose paired with food,” Levels cofounder Andrew Conner told VentureBeat. “We use this to build personalized feedback for each person, so they can see overall, how their metabolic health is, what foods are they most or least sensitive to, and what levers they can pull to build metabolic fitness.”
Under the hood, Levels pairs continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) technology with its own proprietary algorithms to make the data easy to interpret for consumers — it merges various numbers into a single unified metric, like a score.
“Glucose monitoring alone is insufficient because it’s incredibly difficult to understand and loop back to things in your control,” connor added. “Our goal is behavioral change: learn about your metabolism, and build metabolic fitness by forming a tight feedback loop.”
This basically serves to highlight Levels’ top-line goal: to generate easy-to-understand insights from everyday eating habits, without requiring a degree in medicine to understand what it all means.
“Simple questions such as ‘what is normal?’ and ‘what changes should I consider to be more metabolically healthy?’ are hard to answer, because no one has focused on directly measuring and improving metabolic health for non-diabetic people,” Connor added.
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